One Size May Not Fit All: How Obesity Among Mexican-Origin Youth Varies by Generation, Gender, and Age

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Abstract

Immigrants’ health (dis)advantages are increasingly recognized as not being uniform, leading to calls for studies investigating whether immigrant health outcomes are dependent on factors that exacerbate health risks. We answer this call, considering an outcome with competing evidence about immigrants’ vulnerability versus risk: childhood obesity. More specifically, we investigate obesity among three generations of Mexican-origin youth relative to one another and to U.S.-born whites. We posit that risk is dependent on the intersection of generational status, gender, and age, which all influence exposure to U.S. society and weight concerns. Analyses of National Health and Nutrition Examination Studies (NHANES) data suggest that accounting for ethnicity and generation alone misses considerable gender and age heterogeneity in childhood obesity among Mexican-origin and white youth. For example, second-generation boys are vulnerable to obesity, but the odds of obesity for first-generation girls are low and on par with those of white girls. Findings also indicate that age moderates ethnic/generational differences in obesity among boys but not among girls. Overall, ethnic/generational patterns of childhood obesity do not conform to a “one size fits all” theory of immigrant health (dis)advantage, leading us to join calls for more research considering how immigrants’ characteristics and contexts differentially shape vulnerability to disease and death.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2031-2043
Number of pages13
JournalDemography
Volume53
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography

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